Bringing on New Trading Partners – What’s Involved in the Process

You’ve gone through the process and investment for setting up integrated EDI with your first trading partner. Now you have other customers requesting that you become EDI-compliant – should be nothing to it, right? Just a few mouse clicks and you’re done, right? All EDI is the same, isn’t it?

My answer, being from Wisconsin, is that you can think of EDI as snow and each EDI trading partner as an individual snowflake – yes, it’s all snow, but no two snowflakes are alike. Each trading partner will have their own requirements for communications, transaction sets required, required/optional data within each of those transaction sets, transaction timing, testing, cutover and error resolution.

Here’s the process we follow for each request to add a new trading partner/transaction set:

  • Communication Review – how do they expect to send/receive transactions? If via a value-added network (VAN) and you already have a VAN subscription, no big deal then. If they require an AS2 connection, secure FTP connection, some other point-to-point communication method, then there will be more setup, testing, and possible additional software required.
  • Transaction sets required – we’ll ask them for their specifications – if they are requiring you to do EDI, they will typically publish a set of specifications on which transactions their company requires and details on what is required for every transaction set. We do a thorough review of the specifications and identify any items that may require special attention or further discussion with you or the trading partner. We’ve worked with so many different specs, we’re very good at identifying any of the potential pitfalls or items that require special review.
  • As we work through their specific data requirements, we also work with you to identify and set up cross-references for the customer’s shipping locations, their items (and working with you to set up item cross-references if required). They may also require special carrier codes, conversion to kilograms, etc. We go through all these and work through them.
  • We then set up data mapping to/from your ERP formats – we may even end up creating custom functionality in the TRG EDI Connector to satisfy the trading partner’s unique requirements.
  • Then we perform coordinated testing with your trading partner – this amount of effort varies widely. Some require numerous scenarios to be tested/satisfied and some require just a couple of transactions to be tested end-to end. We may also work with you at this point to have you acknowledge/ship/invoice test transactions to simulate the live processing.
  • Once testing is completed, we work with you on coordinate a go-live date, make sure all email addresses are set and all file mappings are up-to-date and data paths are set. We also set up scheduling/scripting to process the inbound and outbound transactions. We also go through training with you to go over any unique requirements.
  • Once cutover is completed, we monitor the initial transactions and make any adjustments as necessary.

Even if it is a trading partner we have work with in the past, we still have to go through these processes, as just like no 2 trading partners are alike, neither are any 2 companies using the same ERP doing things the exact same way. We work with you to make sure EDI fits into the way you do business.

Bringing a new trading partner on-line is far more than just “mapping”. I’ve talked with prospects who question the effort required to bring on a new trading partner – they believe it should just be those few mouse clicks and it should be done. I’ve found that once their mind is set on that, they won’t believe the actual process until they go through it – I explain that we do this every day (and we do) – and we know the steps involved in a successful EDI setup – it’s not a “one-size-fits-all” world in EDI unfortunately.

We have one EDI company we work with that advertises their solution as having one “super map” for integration of each transaction set – basically all you have to do is map your ERP system to their thousands of data elements and you don’t need to map each one individually. Sounds great on paper, doesn’t it? We’ve implemented this and while it is an overall good concept, mapping the thousands of possible data elements would take years to complete and that still doesn’t replace all of the other setup, testing, cutover, follow-up steps that are required to bring a new trading partner on-board. (By the way, we’ve also found that no two trading partners follow the rules the same anyway so we ended up making mapping changes for each one in this scenario as well).

Over the years, we have become extremely efficient with the process and we will typically quote a fixed price per transaction per trading partner. It’s based on our average time to complete all of these steps and we’ve found it to be easier for our customers to budget instead of quoting each individual trading partner separately after reviewing their specifications (which we used to do).

We’re also very thorough and obsessed with getting EDI lined up and flowing smoothly so you get the most out of your EDI investment – it’s what we do.